There was a rally for International Plaza a few weeks ago, but I had errands to run that morning, and by the time I got to the Plaza, all the excitement was over. There were just a few stragglers, including a newspaper reporter and Leo Plotkin who owns Unigma Camera.
Plotkin told me that he put about $100,000 into remodeling the property he leases for his camera store. I don’t understand the rules for compensating leaseholders for condemnation, so I’m not sure how much of that he could expect to get back. Judging by his work to protest the seizure of the mall, I don’t think he’s expecting much.
Ironically, Plotkin emigrated here from Russia, I guess because he heard we were the land of the free.
The rally was held in a vacant store that used to be Oak Creations:
The owner of International Plaza, Su-Chuan Hsu, was at the rally, and she told me that Oak Creations had decided not to renew their lease, giving the potential condemnation of the property as the reason.
On the other hand, despite the threat of eminent domain, the Nari Sushi House has opened. (Apparently it hadn’t actually opened last time I photographed it.)
Also new is the Shandong Garden Chinese Restaurant, which filled a vacancy.
Hsu was nice enough to answer a bunch of my questions. For one thing, she explained which properties besides International Plaza were slated to be condemned, so I can now present a more accurate map:
Hsu explained that the village was claiming International Plaza was blighted because it had a lot of vacancies, but she claims it was about 97% occupied at the time. She says occupancy has been declining since the TIF because tenants are reluctant to remodel storefronts that they may not get to keep for the full term of their lease.
Even if the occupancy figures were as low as the village claims, isn’t that her problem? Given that she loses a fortune in rental income for every vacancy, I think she’s in a much better position than anyone on the board to know how many vacancies are acceptable. (It’s not that she wants the vacancies, but she’s willing to suffer a few vacancies in order to achieve some other business goal, such as finding tenants willing to pay higher rates or avoiding troublesome tenants.)
Hsu also explained the reasons why each of the other properties was blighted.
The Kitakata Japanese Restaurant is located just to the east of International Plaza, and the village of Arlington Heights claims it is blighted because it doesn’t have enough parking spaces, according to Hsu.
Again, that would seem to be the owner’s problem. If the restaurant has enough parking spaces to make its owner a profit, then why should anyone care what the Arlington Heights village board thinks?
It might be different in an area where there’s parking on the street because restaurant patrons who can’t find space in the parking lot might use up too much of the public street parking. But this is a busy suburban intersection, with no street parking as far as the eye can see.
Besides, remember I said that Kitakata was right next to International Plaza? Surely they can work out some sort of shared parking arrangement, right? In fact, from the looks of this plowed path, I think they already have:
The next property is as close an example as we will ever see of genuine blight in the Arlington-Golf TIF district: An abandoned gas station.
Of course, once a property is declared “blighted” it becomes a self-fulfilling designation. Who, after all, would want to develop a blighted property which could be snapped up by the government at any time?
According to Hsu, someone wanted to develop the site, but the village rejected their plan because it didn’t have enough parking.
The building in the background in that shot is the Arlin-Golf Plaza strip mall. I’ll show you what’s back there in another post.